Craft Brewers React Strongly to AB InBev Acquisition of Wicked Weed

Walt Dickinson, head blender and owner of Wicked Weed Brewing, stands for a portrait inside the Wicked Weed Funkatorium in Asheville, North Carolina on July 11, 2016.  Jacob Biba for The Washington Post / Getty Images

Reaction to yesterday’s news that Asheville’s Wicked Weed Brewing is being acquired by Anheuser-Busch InBev has been swift. Jeffrey Stuffings, owner of Austin’s Jester King Brewing, was one of the first to respond, with a lengthy post on his company’s blog explaining why they would pull out of on-going collaborations with Wicked Weed and would no longer sell Wicked Weed beer at their brewery. James Howat of Denver’s Black Project Spontaneous & Wild Ales issued a similar post later in the day announcing that his brewery, too, would pull out of current and future collaborations with Wicked Weed and would no longer be participating in Wicked Weed’s upcoming Funkatorium Invitation festival slated for July 8.

In fact, many breweries are now pulling out of the festival, for which tickets go on sale on Saturday at noon and cost up to $250 per person for VIP access and $100 for general admission.

In an article about the acquisition on the Good Beer Hunting website, Jackie O’s founder Brad Clark explained why he’s no longer participating. “It was pretty simple. They’ve always rubbed me the wrong way, particularly Walt, because he introduces himself to me every time and says, every time, ‘Pleasure to meet you, I’m a big fan of your beers.’ A total lack of relevance and compassion and being present.”

Alex Wallash, owner of The Rare Barrel in Berkeley, California, said, “We’ve made a decision not to serve, collaborate with, or affiliate with AB InBev because our values do not align with theirs. In order to stay true to our values, we’re pulling out of the second part of our collaboration [with Wicked Weed], will not be attending their festivals, and will not be able to serve their beer in our tasting room anymore.”

He added, “While our values diverge and we part ways, we wish the people at Wicked Weed all the best.”

Reached by email and phone, many other high-profile breweries scheduled to appear at the festival said they would no longer be participating. Boston’s Trillium, Brooklyn’s Other Half and Grimm, Miami’s J. Wakefield, and California’s Sante Adairius Rustic Ales, among many others, all indicated that they were out. Local North Carolina breweries are jumping ship, too, including Fonta Flora, Haw River, and Steel String Brewery.

Gabe Gordon, owner of Long Beach, California’s Beachwood BBQ and Brewing said his brewery would no longer be participating in the festival, adding, “I really feel strongly that AB InBev and other mega-brewers are an existential threat to our industry. I really love what I do and am truly saddened that their endless pursuit of profits have claimed another stellar brewery.”

Just yesterday Gordon released a statement, independent of the Wicked Weed acquisition, about his brewery being covered in a web publication called The Beer Necessities. The site is sponsored by ABI’s The High End division and recently featured a story on Beachwood BBQ. Gordon says at the time when the article was being written that he didn’t know the site was owned by ABI.

“As an independent brewery that has fought hard against the predatory business practices of macro beer for almost a decade, we wholly reject this free promotion and all that it stands for. We don’t want it. We don’t need it. And if we knew that it would be used, in our opinion, to help AB InBev in their intensifying quest to dilute the definition of ‘craft,’ we certainly would have refused participation. With this in mind, we ask The Beer Necessities to remove the story.”

Asked about the Wicked Weed purchase, Gordon says, “I find it laughable, though, that all these sell-out breweries put out the same statements. They all make it seem as if they had no other choice but to be purchased by big beer. There are so many ways to raise capital. Its a false choice.”

Scott Vaccaro of New York’s Captain Lawrence Brewing, who also canceled their participation in the Funkatorium Invitation, had a similar sentiment.

“ABI can extol the virtues of their high-end division and the access to ingredients, markets, and equipment they provide to their new brewing partners,” he says. “But let’s be serious. The people who sell out get paid, which is their right and privilege for building a brand of value, and ABI gets another weapon to deploy to provide a wider range of false ‘choice’ to the consumer. They want to control market share and nothing more.”

Vaccaro says that The High End doesn’t care about IPA’s or sour ales. “They crave market share and money,” he says, adding, “I will continue to support my peers who continue to brew innovative and flavorful beer without the help of ABI.”

It isn’t clear whether the festival will go on as planned. Emails and calls to Wicked Weed seeking comment were not immediately returned. A small number of tickets reserved for local Asheville-area residents and sold only at the brewery were purchased last week before the ABI acquisition was announced yesterday. It isn’t clear whether refunds will be offered.